How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas

Peas are a delicious and easy to grow food suitable for almost any garden or homestead. There are many types and varieties of peas that may fit in well with your garden plans. You can choose from dwarf or vining varieties, snow, sweet, or snap peas, edible or inedible pods, quick harvesting or longer, sweeter growing peas.

If you are looking to add peas to your garden or homestead, you will need to know how to plant, grow, and harvest your peas. Here are some of the best reasons to grow peas, what varieties you might like to try, and how to deal with pea pests and diseases.

Why Should You Grow Peas in Your Garden or Homestead?

There are plenty of great reasons to grow peas! You can grow peas in the earliest parts of spring, making them one of the first foods to be harvested. Peas are highly nutritious, and although some consider them to be a starch, green peas actually have a low glycemic index (45 -50). Peas are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, fiber, and protein. Peas are also a great source of Vitamin C.

Another great reason to grow peas is their agricultural benefits. Peas are nitrogen fixing crops, which improve the nitrogen in the soil. When planted closely together, peas will shade out weeds that might compete for nutrients in the soil. They are a great choice for companion planting, as well. Peas grow quickly and bear their fruit easily, making them a great choice for beginner and advanced gardeners.

What Kinds of Peas Can You Grow?

There are three main different types of peas:

  • Sweet Peas are also known as garden peas or English peas. The pod is inedible and the peas are shelled and the pods are discarded. Sweet peas are named for their sweet flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. These are the peas you often find in the frozen food section of the grocery store.
  • Snow Peas have edible pods and can be served raw or cooked. They are often used in stir fries. The edible pods are flat and they have small peas inside. Snow peas have a mild flavor.
  • Snap peas are a cross between snow peas and sweet peas. The entire pod is edible, although any tough strings on the pod should be removed before eating. Snap peas are crunchy and sweet. You can grow regular snap peas or a stringless variety.

Peas also come in two plant types: bush plants and vining plants. Bush peas can be trellised, but if the plants are planted closely together they will support each other without the need for any type of trellis. They will also shade out the weeds. Tall or trellising peas will need a support system – either a trellis, fence, or netting to grow on.

Where and When Should You Plant Peas?

Whether bush or vining, garden, snap, or snow peas, they all love to be in full sun. Choose an area of your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sun per day.

Peas are cold hardy, so you can start them in early spring or even late winter. As soon as you can work the soil, you can plant your peas. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the traditional day for planting peas is St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th.

Better yet, plant your peas four to six weeks before your last frost date, or when the soil temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas are frost hardy, cool weather crops.

Pea plants thrive in cool damp weather, making them ideal for planting in early spring and possibly even fall. Young pea plants can tolerate light frost but a late frost can damage the pea plant’s delicate flowers and cause pea pods to be deformed.

You may need row covers in the event of a surprise, late frost to protect the blossoms and pods. However, most pea varieties will fade in the hot summer sun, so do not plant too late in the season or your harvest will fall short.

How Do You Plant Peas?

Direct Sowing

Peas thrive best when they are direct sown in your garden or raised bed. Pea seeds should be planted an inch apart and one to one and half inches deep into your soil. Space your rows approximately twelve to eighteen inches apart.

Once the seedlings have emerged, you can thin the small plants down to two or three inches apart. Peas have shallow root systems and will pull out easily, even when fully matured.

Starting Indoors

Although peas do wonderfully when direct sown due to their tolerance for cold weather, you can start the seeds indoors. Sow seeds in peat pots two to three weeks before you plan to transplant them to the garden. You will need to harden off the small seedlings to prevent shock.

Simply bring your containers of seedlings outdoors in a shady area for an hour per day, increasing the time each day for about a week. Once the seedlings have been hardened off, you can successfully transplant them into your garden

Growing Peas Indoors

You can grow peas indoors if you have a room that receives enough sunlight. Dwarf peas and snap peas can grow indoors year round. You will need to trellis your plants, much as you would if you were planting them in the garden.

The difficulty with growing peas indoors is pollination. You can set your containers outdoors when the peas are in bloom to be pollinated, or you can eat the tender pea shoots and leaves when they are young without worrying about having to pollinate the pea plants in order for pods to grow.

Best Soil Amendments for Peas

The soil pH for peas should be between 6 and 7.5. You can easily test your soil with a commercial test kit or send it away to your local ag extension for a more detailed analysis and recommendations to amend your specific soil.

Give your pea plants a head start in the spring season by preparing the garden beds in the fall. Add compost or manure into your beds in the fall, turning it in well.

Peas are nitrogen fixers, so there should be no need to add nitrogen to your soil. Doing so may result in lots of pea foliage and little pod development.

However, pea plants do need phosphorus and potassium to grow, so you may want to add wood ashes and bonemeal into the soil before you plant your pea seeds.

If you need to give your peas even more of a boost due to low yields, you can also use pea inoculant to improve the productivity of your peas. Inoculant is a powder form of specialized bacteria to mix into the soil before you plant.

Peas need plenty of water to grow and develop tasty pods and peas but the shallow root systems of the pea plants make it difficult for the plants to absorb moisture from the soil.

Keep the soil from drying out by watering thoroughly at least once a week, depending on how much rain you receive in your area. Your pea plants will need extra moisture when flowering and when the seed pods begin to emerge. Providing enough moisture to your plants will help your plants grow lush, delicious pea pods.

Best Pea Varieties to Plant

here are many varieties of pea plants to choose from. You might select your pea variety based on the space you have in your garden. Dwarf varieties will need less space and may not need trellising, while vining varieties will need more space, although they may only require vertical space and have a very small garden footprint.

You might choose your variety of pea based on how you want to use it. Are you looking for edible pods? Or do you prefer shelled peas? Will you be eating your peas fresh, freezing your peas, or canning them? Will you be planting your peas in the fall and spring or do you have need for a summer crop, as well? Here are our best picks for peas for your homestead or garden.

Sweet, English, or Garden Pea Varieties

These are shelling peas; the pods are tough and bitter and not intended to be eaten.

  • Green Arrow. Green arrow is a garden pea that is well suited to spring and summer plantings. High producing vines are hardy and resistant to fusarium wilt. Green Arrow peas boast a grand 11 peas per pod and will be ready to eat in about seventy days.
  • Daybreak is an early, sweet shelling pea. These peas are great for freezing and eating fresh and can be harvested in 54 days. They grow up to 24 inches tall.
  • Spring Peas. Spring peas are mildly sweet and highly prolific producing plants. They are ready in about 60 days.
  • Survivor. Survivor peas are moderately sweet, with stringy, clinging vines and surprisingly few leaves. Survivor peas are ready in 70 days.
  • Wando. Wando peas are great for fall and spring, tolerating both warm and cool weather. They are ready to eat in 70 days and are good for both freezing and drying.
  • Garden Sweet. This is an extra sweet pea that is ready in 75 days.
  • Early Perfection. These peas are highly prolific, suitable for spring and fall planting, and ready in 65 days. Early perfection peas are great for both freezing and canning.
  • Maestro. Maestro peas are high producers of dark green pods. These mildly sweet peas are well-suited for fall and spring planting.
  • Little Marvel. These sweet and tender peas are ready in about 65 days.
  • Misty Shell. This is a high yielding, disease resistant producer of plump, sweet peas. Although the plants only reach about 20 inches tall, they boast large three-inch pods within about 60 days.
snow peas
photo: snow-peas

Snow Peas

These flat pea pods with tiny peas are also known as Chinese pea pods. They are often used in stir fries.

  • Snowbird. Snowbird is a variety of snow peas with short plants and moderately sweet peas.
  • Gray Sugar. These tender and sweet pods are ready in about 65 days.
  • Sugar Daddy. Two foot tall vines with good disease resistance are ready for harvest in about 75 days and bear sweet, tender pods.
  • Oregon Sugar Pods. These very sweet pods are grown on 2 ½ foot tall plants. This great producer is ready in about 70 days.
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar. Large heirloom vines grow four to five feet tall. The large pea pods are ready in 70 days.
  • Avalanche. If you are looking for huge pods, this disease-resistant variety of pea is the right choice. Plants can reach up to three feet tall and produce tender, sweet peas in only 60 days.
  • Snowbird. Snow bird is a type of snow pea that is resistant to fusarium wilt. This is a very prolific dwarf plant.
  • Oregon Giant. This snow pea boasts large pods, white flowers, and resistance to fusarium wilt, mosaic virus, and powdery mildew. Oregon Giants were cultivated by Dr. James Baggett of Oregon State University. 

snap pea
photo: snap pea

Snap Peas

These crunchy pods are chock-full of vitamin C and have a delightful crunch when eaten fresh.

  • Sugar Bon. This disease-resistant snap pea is ready in as little as fifty-five days. The two foot tall plants grow sweet pods.
  • Sugar Snap. Sugar snap vines grow to an amazing six feet tall, producing a very sweet snap pea.
  • Sugar Ann. Sugar Ann is naturally disease resistant, with very sweet crisp pods growing on short bushy plants. Sugar Ann peas do not need extra support. These sweet pods are ready for harvest in about 55 days. This snap pea received great reviews on rareseeds.com. Pods can be sautéed, steamed, or served fresh.

Companion Plantings for Peas

Peas make delightful planting companions. They shade out weeds, fix the nitrogen in the garden soil, and can provide a little shade for other cool-loving vegetables (such as spinach) when trellised.

The harvest or maturity times of these companion plants do not need to line up with the harvest times of peas. Try pairing them with any of the following vegetables:

  • Herbs such as mint
  • Lettuce and spinach
  • Radishes
  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Peppers

Do not plant peas with:

  • Onions
  • Garlic

How to Harvest Peas

Harvesting peas frequently will increase productivity in your pea plants, meaning more pods will develop on each plant. Leaving overly ripe pods on the plant will signal the plant to stop producing more pods. Daily harvesting is best for the most prolific crop.

The best time to harvest peas is in the morning, after the dew has burned off and before the sun is hot. Pea pods will be sweeter and more crisp when picked at this time of day.

Be careful not to damage the plant when picking pea pods. Use two hands – one to secure the plant and the other to pull off the pods. Be very gentle with the plants because they pull out of the soil easily due to their shallow root system.

Snow peas should be harvested when the peas inside the pod are still small and the pod looks flat. If you wait until the peas are larger, the pods will start to be chewy.

Snap peas should be harvested when the pods are filled with peas. If snap peas become too ripe, you can eat them as if they were garden peas. Snap peas should feel crisp and firm when harvested.

Harvest garden peas before the pea pod is so full that it looks wrinkled. Overripe garden peas will lose their flavor, but can still be dried and used for soup.

Peas taste freshest and tastiest when eaten or preserved within a few hours of picking. If you are going to preserve peas by freezing, blanching will preserve their texture and flavor. Simply blanch for 2 minutes, cool in an ice bath, dry, and freeze in freezer safe containers such as freezer bags.

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to blanch your peas, you can freeze them without blanching. However, after four to six weeks, they will begin to lose their flavor, texture, and nutrients in the freezer.

Freshly harvested peas can last in the refrigerator for five days. When peas are picked past their prime, you can still preserve them even though their flavor is a bit diminished. Shell your over-ripened peas and dry them to be used in soups.

Pea Shoots

If you’re in a rush for the fresh taste of peas and don’t want to wait until harvest time, you can harvest immature shoots, leaves, and blossoms of your pea plants.

The flavor is similar to the flavor of a pea, but fresher and with more crunch. They can be used in salads and stir fries and as a beautiful, edible garnish.

Keep in mind that sweet peas, the ornamental flower also known as Lathyrus odoratus, is wonderfully smelling but poisonous. Only the vegetable variety of pea, otherwise known as pisum sativum, is actually edible. Make sure you know which shoots you are eating before tasting.

Pea Diseases and Pests

Peas are overall hardy plants, but can become subject to several different types of pests and diseases.

  • Aphids. Aphids, also known as greenfly and blackfly, suck the sap from plants. Infestations may be mild or severe. You can treat aphid infestations with insecticidal soap.
  • Fusarium wilt. This disease is a fungi found in soil that enters the plants through its root system. As it interrupts the plants ability to draw water, the lower leaves become yellow and wilt. The plant and its fruit may be stunted or may eventually die. You can prevent fusarium wilt by improving soil drainage around the plant.
  • Powdery mildew. This fungal disease looks like flour sprinkled on the leaves of plants. It spreads from plant to plant when humidity is high. Water early in the morning so the plants can dry before evening to prevent powdery mildew from taking over.

For best results with regards to preventing plant or disease outbreaks, simply plant varieties of peas that are resistant to diseases, such as Sugar Ann, to further control outbreaks of powdery mildew and fusarium wilt.

Overall, peas are very easy to plant and grow for both beginning gardeners and seasoned homesteaders.

Even if you have trouble growing plants to maturity, you can always eat the delicate shoots and blossoms along with your salad greens and stir fries. Or harvest the delectable legumes at just the right time for a harvest that keeps going until the weather gets hot.

Keep harvesting every day to encouraging more pod growth and eat the pods or peas when they are fresh or preserve quickly. Choose hardy varieties such as Sugar Ann or Green Arrow for the best results.

With just a little knowledge and a little effort, you’ll be able to have a delicious and prolific pea harvest to feed you and your family.

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